Emma Brockes


One thing I keep hearing, as the fallout from Weinstein continues, is incredulity that a famous champion of liberal causes might have a problem with women. To most women who have spent time around champions of liberal causes, this is (grimly) hilarious. The idea that men on the left are less likely to be misogynists than men on the right is as bogus an idea as the one that men of the cloth are less likely to sin. And yet over and over it comes: why did he do it? Was it because of self-loathing? Was it the thrill of getting away with it?

I think he did it because, to him, it was simply no big deal. I was talking with a friend once about sexual assault and he said: “Well, being raped isn’t as bad as, say, working in a factory in China.” Apart from the ludicrousness of the comparison – of trying to figure out what rape is and isn’t as bad as – it was suddenly clear to me that to him, and I assume to many men, rape exists purely in the hypothetical realm. “If you had to work in a factory for six months or be raped, which would you choose?” I asked. He looked taken aback; rape wasn’t something he had considered in relation to himself.

There have been complaints from women that the elision of minor infringements – knee-grabbing, verbal harassment – with violent assault dilutes the gravity of “genuine” sex crimes. But it seems to me that these things have always been elided: by the criminal justice system, by men who don’t see much difference between pinching someone’s arse and “non-consensual sex”. Unless you are a 17-year-old who is grabbed off the street by men in ski masks, the continuum between sexual assault, harassment and aggressive “banter” is at best a little blurry.

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There will be over-corrections. Some of the narratives on offer to young women to whom older men have been inappropriate will invite some to feel more traumatised than they are. It is, undoubtedly, better to laugh off some experiences than nurse them.

But it is also better to live in a world in which the genuinely traumatised aren’t told nothing has happened to them, and where the presumptions underpinning even the most trivial acts of aggression are dragged out and exposed. It has never been much of a taboo to touch a woman without her permission. Perhaps, under pain of calamitous “overreaction” from those legions of humourless millennials, it will be from now on.

Source: The Guardian

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